Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month: Meet Brian Mo
Software engineer Brian Mo works with his team to bring new API features to life so that fintechs have an even more robust line of services to choose from. Before joining Treasury Prime, Brian worked at multinational tech company IBM and most recently at financial services startup Plaid. While the fintech world may have been familiar to Brian, he says his experience at Treasury Prime has been nothing short of a “breath of fresh air”.
Share a bit about your upbringing.
I’m a first-generation Chinese American; my parents are immigrants — my dad is from China and my mom is from Taiwan.
I was born and raised in New York City, but bounced around quite a bit in the tristate area. As other Chinese Americans can probably identify with, I was raised with a big emphasis on education. Education was really at the forefront of my parents’ minds. When they made the move to the States, it was a monumental sacrifice for them. I think they gave up a lot of their own life ambitions for us. That’s why I think my parents made sure my brother and I had a strong focus on education, because it was a way to ensure me and my brother would be okay in the future.
Getting a good education was actually one of the main reasons we moved around a lot when I was younger. Where we were living in NYC, we didn’t have the same resources that we had in the suburbs of New York, so even though that meant a more difficult commute for my parents, they were willing to move our family farther out so that me and my brother would have access to better education.
What was that move like?
Growing up in a city where it’s very diverse and moving out to the suburbs is a very different experience and it was a bit hard to adjust.
The suburbs of New York, while still accepting and filled with a lot of wonderful people, definitely gave me some challenging experiences and made me notice things that I hadn’t when I was living in the city. I think it was especially apparent because we moved into a wealthier, predominantly white neighborhood.
Living in a city as diverse as NYC, I felt that my race was just like any other aspect of my identity. While an important part of my identity, it didn’t feel like it uniquely defined who I am. In the suburbs, however, I became a lot more conscious of how others perceived me through my race, ethnicity, and family income level. I remember receiving some racist comments, being teased for what I brought to school for lunch, and even bullied for wearing hand-me-downs. There were more than a few times when I’d just wish I was a different race, because it’d be so much easier.
At the time, those challenging experiences made me somewhat resentful of my parents for having immigrated to the U.S. I felt like I was being identified by the duality of having been born in America but growing up in a culturally Chinese household, while not feeling a true sense of belonging to either community. It felt as though my race precluded me from being "100% American", while my lack of fluency in Mandarin and my upbringing in the U.S. meant that I couldn't share in certain Chinese cultural touchstones.
Looking back on my upbringing now, though, I'm so appreciative of my parents for the sacrifices they've made and I've certainly come to love being Asian American.
That sounds really difficult, how have you gotten more comfortable with your identity?
It’s definitely gotten a lot better, but I do struggle at times. I’ve had racist encounters or heard some culturally insensitive things being said after I left the suburbs and returned to the city for school and work. There was one incident where a colleague of mine had complained about an “oriental” person doing yoga outside the office.
You know, I don’t think people are always intentionally being hurtful with comments like this. More often than not, I think it’s coming from a place of ignorance, maybe they grew up in a different time and place. I've had a lot of great experiences talking with people about why their comments might have been hurtful and we were ultimately able to reconcile and even develop meaningful friendships.
Coming to a place like Treasury Prime has really reminded me that there are really open minded people in this world, and that you can have friends and colleagues who can appreciate your identity — like your ethnicity or race — but also appreciate who you are beyond that. That’s something I really appreciate about Treasury Prime. The people are fantastic.
That’s really great to hear. What else have you enjoyed about being at Treasury Prime?
I’ve learned a lot! The most obvious thing is learning how to code in a new language — Clojure — which I had no prior experience with. It was really cool to be able to code in this new language and I’ve come to really enjoy it!
I also just really enjoy learning about money movement in the U.S. Just learning about the underpinnings of the American financial system is really interesting and working on the challenge of changing the banking system for the better is really cool.
And like I said, the people are so warm, friendly, and supportive, and I really appreciate the transparency Treasury Prime’s leadership team shows.
As an engineer, what’s your advice for other AAPI community members who are interested in joining the space?
Engineering can be a very homogenous profession. I’d really like to see engineering teams across the industry prioritize diversifying who they bring on, so if you’re interested in becoming an engineer — no matter your background — I hope you pursue it!
When it comes to the profession, take advantage of the free resources out there to learn new languages and sharpen your skills.
From the perspective of a person of color, my advice is to use your voice. Whether you’re a victim of an insensitive comment, see someone else mistreated, or feel like you aren’t being heard, say something. Leverage your HR team, speak up at meetings, and be willing to educate. Like I said, I think a lot of times people just lack the perspective or knowledge and in my experience are open to learning from you if you just let them know.
I think Asian Americans can have a tendency to avoid rocking the boat, but I think you should really fight for what you believe in.
Finally, one thing that has helped me tremendously is knowing that everyone, just like you, will struggle with imposter syndrome. It’s normal to have moments of doubt, but realizing that everyone around you — even your superiors — feels the same way can make you feel a lot less alone.
We’re all trying our best out there.
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